Saturday, August 15, 2009

(500) Days of Summer

Film Review by Kam Williams

Headline: Incurable Romantic Woos Jaded Woman Who Just Doesn’t Believe

If you prefer your sitcoms more sophisticated than sophomoric, then this sublime storyline might be right up your alley. It revolves around the misfortunes of Tom Hansen (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), an architectural school dropout who has settled for a career writing inscriptions for a Hallmark-style greeting card manufacturer. The plot thickens when this incurable romantic falls head-over-heels for the company’s pretty new secretary, Summer Finn (Zooey Deschanel), and on her first day on the job.

Convinced that they’re destined to be lifemates, he gradually summons up the courage to approach her. Over drinks afterhours at an office karaoke party, the two exchange their feelings about romance. Already smitten, Tom is crestfallen to learn that she doesn’t believe that true love exists. All is not lost, however, as Summer still is willing to date, maybe even as a friend with benefits.

The two subsequently proceed to embark on a year and a half-long affair which proves emotionally-draining to Tom, since the more intimate they become the harder he finds it to heed her repeated warnings not to become attached or possessive. Meanwhile, the inscrutable object of his affection remains relatively-hard to read, especially given his tendency to fantasize about their future together.

The contrast between his increasingly-unreasonable expectations and reality provide the cinematic grist for the mill in (500) Days of Summer, a character-driven dramedy exhibiting a refreshingly un-formulaic attitude. The movie marks the praiseworthy directorial debut of Marc Webb who must be credited for coaxing convincing performances out of co-stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel as a couple seemingly stuck in an untenable situation where one wants more while the other just wants out. Webb also effectively employs a collection of clever technical devices (such as split screens and frequent flashbacks) in a fashion that’s both dizzying and downright delightful.

Fair warning: the fate of Tom and Summer’s tortured liaison is spoiled before the premise is established, since the picture opens on day 488 with the announcement of her engagement to another guy. But don’t fret about knowing the ending, for what makes the movie compelling nonetheless is the thought-provoking deconstruction of the relationship during the revealing series of tete-a-tetes shared by our very likable leads.

An introspective, bittersweet romp reminiscent of the best of Woody Allen.

Excellent (4 stars)
Rated PG-13 for profanity and sexuality.
Running time: 95 minutes
Studio: Fox Searchlight

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